Yad Vashem debuts new exhibition on Kristallnacht anniversary

A new online exhibition entitled “It Came from Within” features personal stories, archives, and testimony related to Kristallnacht.

By Joseph Wolkin

Their land didn’t want them. The people living on the land didn’t want them. Many people left, but a few stayed.

The Jews of Europe were tortured. Their businesses were destroyed, as were their synagogues. Now, 82 years after Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, Yad Vashem is showcasing a new digital exhibition to elaborate on the events that took place from Nov. 9 to 10, 1938.

The online exhibition entitled, “‘It Came from Within:’ The November Pogrom (Kristallnacht)” features personal stories, archives, a Torah scroll, video testimonies and more. The exhibition is available in English, Hebrew, German and Spanish.

“That night was so aggressive and I want to show that when people think of Kristallnacht, they think it was only synagogues that were burning and glass was broken,” Yona Kobo, the curator at Yad Vashem who created “It Came from Within, said. “They don’t know what happened to the people.”

In this exhibition, Kobo gathered several stories that show what exactly happened to individuals during the pogrom.

Not only did the two-day event have an impact on Jews across Europe, but the days before and after were just as dangerous. There are 10 interactive pictures to click on, each telling a different story from Kristallnacht.

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“It’s a very important turning because after that, it wasn’t just anti-Jewish legislation,” Kobo said. “There was a lot of vandalism against the Jews in a very severe way.”

One of the exhibition’s key elements is Lore Mayerfield Stern’s story about her doll. This wasn’t just a doll, but a symbol of how she and her mother survived the pogrom in Marburg, Germany.

“She only managed to take her pajamas from her home,” Kobo said. “The pajama is what the doll is wearing.”

The November Pogrom started with Herschel Grynszpan, a Jewish teenager living in Paris at the time. He went to the German embassy in Paris and shot diplomat Ernst vom Rath. The Nazis used the murder as a way to attack the Jewish communities across Europe. The narrative spread across Europe that all Jews were responsible and needed to be held accountable.

In a two-day span, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and deported to various concentration camps. Jewish businesses and synagogues were destroyed. Roughly 100 people were murdered by the Nazis in the first major mass incarceration of Jews, and several committed suicide in the days after.

“They took away their dignity,” Kobo said.

In the days and weeks following Kristallnacht, Jews began to flee en masse from Germany. Some went to the Netherlands and France, but ultimately fell victim to the Nazi regime.

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Now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Yad Vashem is seeing an uptick in its website’s traffic. The Holocaust museum believes it is an opportune time to teach about the events that occurred and their timeline. And Yad Vashem is getting creative by using the pandemic as a time to make its collections and exhibitions easily accessible.

“We thought nobody would care about it right now, but the numbers are great,” Kobo said. “People want to see something authentic.”

The biggest lesson of all, though, from the exhibition is to never give up hope.

“After such a terrible ordeal, you can still get up and continue,” Kobo said. “We have stories [of people] who managed to leave and build a new life.”

For Kristallnacht’s anniversary this year, March of the Living launched #lettherebelight, a social media campaign to spread awareness about the night of terror. They are also inviting people across the globe to keep their lights on to show solidarity with the Jewish community in memory of those were killed in the Holocaust.